SAMBURU/ISIOLO, 24 September 2010 (IRIN) - In an effort to stem the endemic violent banditry and cattle-rustling that plagues pastoralist areas in northern Kenya, professionals and community leaders from various ethnic groups have been criss-crossing the region in “peace caravans”.
IRIN hitched a ride with one such caravan, which held meetings bringing together members of the Samburu, Rendile, Borana, Gabra, Turkana, Pokot, Somali and Meru communities.
“I get sad that the only reports from my Samburu community and our neighbours are all about killings and deaths,” said one member, TV news anchor Naisula Lesuda.
“The morans [young men] who raid our neighbours are thieves, killers. The women must stop singing praise songs for them or accepting stolen animals as dowry,” she added.
“Our elders must ensure that morans who kill or steal are punished, they must not be honoured with bracelets on their hands for killings and raids,” said Juma Lekaruaki, an accountant.
There were some 412 violent deaths in northern Kenya in 2009, according to Pastoralist Voices, a publication of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Francis Merinyi, who campaigns to promote the rights of children, said: “The number of orphaned and desperate children without access to education in Laikipia, Samburu and Pokot is increasing at an alarming rate.
“Nobody is helping them, they get killed as they attempt to change and get themselves out of poverty and own livestock, the only source of livelihood known to them.”
Sam Kona, a peace and conflict resolution expert with USAID, which together with the Kenyan government and Development Alternative Initiatives supports the caravans, said: “We are forging unity, informing our people that we are not permanent enemies. We have disagreed, but the differences can be resolved without the killings and stealing of animals,” added Kona, from the Turkana community.
“We have reduced our population and increased the number of poor families as we fight over pasture. Many smart brains, [potential] doctors, pilots, teachers have died while stealing animals or in raids,” he said.
Pokot and Samburu youths often clash over water and pasture with perennial drought exacerbating raids.
“Several attempts have been made in the past to end rivalry between us but failed... they all involved the use of force. Our approach is different, our people listen to us and I am confident they will accept our messages,” James Teko, a banker from the Pokot community, told IRIN while addressing a peace meeting at Naisunyai, Wamba, Samburu district, attended by morans, women and elders.
“Northern Kenya has always been like a war zone. The situation has worsened in recent years. It is shameful that we always meet to plan funerals and raise money for the injured while professionals from other parts of Kenya meet to discuss development issues,” added Teko.
Another member of the Waso caravan, Fanny Mohamed, said women had a crucial role in conflict resolution, but were rarely given the opportunity.
“We must monitor our children and discourage our boys from stealing livestock,” said Mohamed. “Somali women in Isiolo no longer sing praise songs for livestock thieves. We now use the same songs to encourage our people to educate their children.”
So-called peace warriors, morans who have renounced cattle-raids, are also part of the peace caravans. Some lamented the lack of income and insecurity posed by other morans still bearing arms.
“We ask to be assisted to buy and sell animals, start small businesses or be employed in the tourist hotels,” Lodukasho Lesiamo said.
A Maasai elder in Laikipia, Lekupai Logelan, said cattle-raids had subsided in his area since the introduction of ceremonies to “curse” youths who took part. “Our boys no longer steal livestock; they are involved in crop farming, we also produce a lot of honey,” Logelan said at a meeting in Leparua, along the Isiolo border.
According to the Samburu East District Commissioner, Daniel Nduti, government programmes in school construction and provision of bursaries are helping more children access education.
Abduba Jattani, an engineer who heads another peace caravan that works with families displaced by clashes, said he and his fellow travellers were working “to restore harmony among our people. It’s a daunting task but I am confident that our people will soon start to inter-marry like in the past.”
Mary Alubei, a programme officer with the Arid Lands Resource Management Peace Support Programme, said a holistic approach to peace, reconciliation and disarmament comprising improved security and alternative livelihood sources was required.
“The use of force will not resolve conflicts in this region, it’s important to understand factors which influenced our communities to acquire guns,” she said, referring to operations aimed at forcibly disarming communities in the north.
A bereaved school teacher, Mohamed Jamaa, said money had to be an ingredient in any recipe for lasting peace and reconciliation.
“I am still bitter, my father was killed, 29 head of cattle and a donkey taken. He left behind orphans. This peace campaign will not succeed until those responsible, the government too for failure to offer protection, agree to compensate us,” he told IRIN.